Children in Poland got to experience the inspirational power of football at the UEFA Europa League final in Warsaw as part of the UEFA Foundation for Children’s first new project. “Some of them had been so excited they couldn’t sleep two or three nights before the game,” said Janusz Bukowski, who heads the local association that was responsible for accompanying the children at the match.
A total of 200 tickets were made available in support of vulnerable children living in Poland. The Polish Football Federation (PZPN) and the city of Warsaw selected 14 associations with a recognised role in this field, and through them sent 157 children and 43 accompanying adults to the final on 27 May.
“Being chosen to attend the final meant a lot for these children. It was like winning the lottery for them,” Bukowski said. “Many of these children were so excited they couldn’t sleep two or three nights before the game – they couldn’t believe they’d really been invited to such great event. It was a fantastic idea and I would like to say ‘Merci Michel’. Sport is a fantastic opportunity to integrate people. These vulnerable children now feel that they are important, that somebody cares about them. In their everyday lives, they get into trouble at school and at home because they can’t control their emotions. That’s why they’re often rejected by others. And here they weren’t rejected, quite the opposite: they were INVITED. It’s a big difference in comparison with their day-to-day lives. Football really can make a difference, and this is just one example. Even before the game I spoke to their teachers, who said that just being invited had helped a lot; the children had suddenly started to behave! This has changed them a lot.”
Explaining how the children were selected, Bukowski revealed: “It was amazing for me. To be frank, we picked the biggest troublemakers. The more rejected they were by the community, the more we wanted them. We also had children in wheelchairs. For some of them it really was a dream come true. UEFA and the Polish FA not only gave them tickets, they gave them the feeling that somebody cares. UEFA made them feel as great as the stadium they were in, as great as the event they were watching. This is priceless. Most of them love football, Robert Lewandowski is their idol and who knows – maybe one day they will have the opportunity to watch him from the stands!”